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Managing demolition in a historic environment

January 10, 2022

How do we protect our cherished history whilst looking to the future?

One of the many riches about the UK is its history. It has a vast one and much of this is manifested in its architecture and buildings. Orkney has the oldest surviving artefact in the UK – a farmstead dating back to 3700 BC.

Cities like Cardiff, Lincoln and York have castles dating from the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries, with many churches dating back to the 11th century.

The challenge for conservation and developers alike is to protect these and other structures that are listed. They often need to be retained as they are of special interest. We see this in other sectors too – Stephenson’s “Rocket” for example as it exists today is a recreated replica, as are other trains in the National Railway Museum in York.

Scotland, in common with other countries, has some guiding principles for managing demolition in a historic environment.

Applicants need to show that they have made all reasonable efforts to retain listed buildings:

  • The significance of the building and its setting is fully understood;
  • The condition of the building has been assessed by appropriate conservation professionals;
  • Repair is not economically viable;
  • Alternative sources of finance have been explored;
  • The property has been marketed for a reasonable period at a price reflecting its condition to potential restoring purchasers.

There are some useful examples of where buildings have been repurposed.

St Jude’s Episcopal Church, Glasgow

This was threatened with demolition in 1996, but restored as a boutique hotel. It opened in 1839 and you can read more about it here. It is now the Malmaison Hotel.

Broughty Ferry, Dundee

Here a listed beach shelter was earmarked for demolition but it was eventually sold and converted to a restaurant, called Urban Beach

Not all buildings though can be preserved and repurposed. There are many examples of demolition and Downtakings taking place where there are few alternatives.

  • Ferguslie Mill No. 1, Renfrewshire, was demolished in 1992 on the basis of its poor condition and economic unviability.
  • A category B‐listed toll‐house of circa 1830 at Great Northern Road, Aberdeen. Consent was granted for demolition in 2006 on the grounds of its poor structural condition, its road‐blighted location, and the lack of a restoring purchaser.
  • Falfield Mill, an 1818 cotton mill in Glasgow was one of two listed buildings demolished on the route of the new M74 extension, an infrastructure project of national significance.

In future blog posts, we will look closely at other factors in demolition including conservation areas, archaeology, natural heritage and recording.

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